Self-care helps us find a balance between our physical, mental and emotional health and take responsibility for our own wellbeing. The World Health Organisation definition of self-care is" the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider". All of us have a responsibility to cultivate a relationship with ourselves that can improve our physical and mental wellbeing and at the same time, prevent illness. By learning and adopting simple practices into our lives, we can do our best to look after our minds, bodies and souls. So what can we learn from yoga about self-care and what ways can we practice self-care with yoga?
What does yoga philosophy teach us about self-care?
The Patanjali Yoga sutras, the teachings of yoga philosophy outline the five Niyamas as personal practices to adopt for how we care for ourselves. The first of the five Niyamas is Sauca - purity - cleanliness of the mind and body. Finding simplicity in daily routines and the way that we care for and move our bodies through life. The second Niyama is Santosha - contentment - actively choosing to be joyful with the small things around us, being aware and conscious and thankful of life as it is. The third Niyama is Tapas - translating to self-discipline. This practice relates to creating routine and ritual. Setting small achievable goals to find the time and space for you and the self-care practices you would like to incorporate into your day. The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya - self-study - relates to reflecting, identifying our needs and studying. Adopting an attitude and purpose as an eternal student. This practice can be enhanced by opening our minds to challenge our thoughts and ideas and learn from others and the world around us. Follow the path that is shining for you - the thing you would love to learn more about or want to be able to do. The final Niyama is Isvara Pranidhana - devotion. This Niyama encourages us to identify what we can control and what is outside our control. Learning to surrender and simply accept and let some things be.
Ten ways to practice self-care with yoga
1. Creating rituals
Finding simple rituals that focus on self-care can create meaning and purpose to each day. Try to start with a simple ritual in the morning. This could be a smile in the mirror to acknowledge that you are ready for the day ahead, a time to enjoy a perfect cup of coffee or a spot to place your meditation cushion every morning. A simple ritual that you can fall back on will eventually become as automatic as brushing your teeth every night. By repeating self-care practices, you can enforce your right and responsibility for self-care every single day.
2. Gratitude practice
Writing down what you feel grateful for has been shown to have immediate benefits on happiness levels and support long-term contentment. Write down three things a day, or even share these with your loved ones or encourage them to join you. If you have time, try the ten fingers of gratitude practice. Writing ten things you feel grateful for can focus your attention on replacing negative words with positive words. It can be as simple as the cup of tea you are drinking or the view from your window or the important people in your life.
3. Restorative yoga poses
Simple yoga asanas - poses that allow the body to rest are perfect for a self-care routine. Try the legs up the wall pose- Viparita Karani. This passive pose doesn't require any muscular energy and is easy, requiring no warm-up. Find a wall and place a blanket or mat perpendicular to the wall. Lie sideways to the wall with bent knees, then turn yourself to face the wall and walk your legs up the wall. Savasana - Corpse pose is another pose to achieve full relaxation. Lie on your back, with your legs and arms resting gently in a neutral position, let go of all effort and close your eyes. If you want a longer restorative practice try my dear friend Tracey Ubercook's Yoga Nidra 30-minute relaxation.
4. Laughter yoga - Hasyayoga
Your body doesn't know the difference between impromptu laughter and intentional laughter, which can be harnessed by practicing laughter yoga. This type of yoga is a fairly modern practice and great to try with your friends or family. The combination of warm-up techniques, clapping, and body movements will very quickly have your sides aching. Try a laughter yoga session to release feelings of tension and stress and allow yourself to be. This 30-minute laugh with me video session by Bianca Spears is the perfect antidote to a heavy day.
Meditation can help us to be conscious of the present and being in the moment. Sitting still and focusing on the breath and bringing stillness provides great clarity, even when practiced for 5 minutes a day. Try some guided meditations to find what suits you. It's great to try meditations with music and without, to see how this impacts your focus and concentration. You can also use a timer to set a gong or chime for the end of meditation. Insight Timer is a free app perfect for setting yourself five minutes to meditate.
6. Pranayama - yoga breathing and breathwork.
Connecting with the breath is the foundation of yoga. Using pranayama yoga breathing practice can slow and deepen the breath and at the same time, reset the parasympathetic nervous system to induce relaxation. Try a simple practice of alternate nostril breathing - nadi shodana. This is a great practice for beginners and can be done anywhere. Focus on the breath and use your right-hand thumb to close your right nostril while inhaling through the left nostril, then close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Click here for a simple worksheet.
7. Connecting with nature
Spending 15 minutes a day outside can increase our feelings of satisfaction with life and remind us that we are part of nature. So head out of the balcony, put your trainers on and go for a short walk. To add intent, you can take an awe walk to see things outside with a fresh pair of eyes. Focus on something that you haven't seen before; every season will offer something new and different. The frost-covered plants, the early flower buds in spring, the bird song of summer mornings and the fallen crunchy leaves of autumn all offer insight into the change around us. You can find more practices to connect with the world around you by signing up for the Cultivating Resilience Toolkit.
8. Nourishing your body with food
Conscious eating enables us to think about what fuel we put into our bodies and how this makes us feel. By paying greater attention to your food, you will start to observe patterns of what makes you feel great and energised. Focus on these positive foods and find ways to include more of them in your meals. This can be as simple as trying a new herbal tea or drinking hot water with lemon. Try out some new recipes and find nourishing snacks that can make you feel good during the working day. For some inspiration, take a look at 101 Cookbooks - a firm favourite of ours.
9. Journaling and reflection
Writing down our thoughts can be the perfect way to achieve greater clarity on what is swirling around in our heads. We can use the process of journaling to reflect on life and let the journal be the non-judgmental person to share our thoughts with. Try to set aside ten minutes in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed, find a beautiful card or notebook and let the pencil do the talking. You might be surprised how easy it is to start writing and how much you have stored in your busy mind. By noting down your feelings, you can also create a record to look back on and reflect on moments of challenge and celebration in the year.
10. Setting intentions
Setting an intention during our yoga or meditation practice allows us to take this intention off the mat and into our day. By bringing awareness to something that we would like to cultivate for ourselves, we can be more conscious of our thoughts and actions. Empower yourself to change something small - think of something that you would like to be to yourself and the people around you- to be grateful, be patient, be compassionate, be fearless, be forgiving, be strong. Repeat this intention at the start and finish of your yoga practice and then take a few moments in your day to remind yourself. You can even try writing the intention and placing it in a space where you will see it. You can read more about how yoga can help us live more consciously in this blog post.
Take time to try one of these practices today, and start investing in your own self-care practice with yoga. Make the time to allow yourself to shine, inside and out.
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